There is a charming story that is told about a little girl named Allison who always had a hard time going to bed. And this night was no exception. After a story and prayers and a drink of water and a visit to the bathroom, Allison was tucked in and the lights were turned off – but not for long. “Mommy,” she called out in a pitiful voice. “I can’t go to sleep; I’m afraid of the dark.” “Now, Allison,” her mother replied patiently, “There’s no reason for you to be afraid. You know that God is always right there with you.” “I know, Mommy,” said the little girl. “I know God’s here. But I want somebody with skin on!”
Indeed, as much as our faith acknowledges the omnipresence of our loving God, as people of flesh and blood, it is only natural that we crave the physical presence and companionship of those ‘with skin on!’ And so it is for us as members of the Church who continue to celebrate the living presence of the Lord in our midst.
Our Catholic theology utilizes the important word, ‘sacrament’ to capture our human yearning for the Divine to be present to us in a tangible way. Jesus, the eternal Word of the Father, was and is, in a most profound way, ‘Sacrament’ of the Father’s love and enduring mercy. The late Billy Graham used to say, “If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus Christ.” In the mystery of the Incarnation, God took on human flesh and through the sacramentality of the human body, revealed the fullness of the divine presence in one like us, though freed from sin. St. Paul would wax poetic when he told the early Christians at Colossae, that Jesus was “the image (icon) of the invisible God…”
Through the ‘sacramentality,’ or ‘physicality’ of bread and wine, water and oil, as well as our very bodily presence one to another, the Lord reveals his ongoing presence in time and space.
As the Lord ascended to the Father at the conclusion of his earthly ministry, he promised that ‘he would not leave us orphans’ and would, in the power of his Spirit, remain with us always. That shepherding presence would be realized, first, in the twelve intimate companions in the ministry of Jesus, the Apostles, who were sent forth to proclaim the good news of the Lord’s continuing and abiding presence. In time, the original twelve would ‘lay hands’ on others and send them forth to carry on the Apostolic ministry of ‘remembering’ the marvels that the Lord had done and hand on the tradition of word and sacrament to the ends of the earth.
This apostolic presence formed the foundation for the ministry of ‘Bishop’ or shepherding ‘overseer’ within the community of believers. Peter, the ‘rock’ upon which the Lord would ‘build his Church,’ would eventually become the Bishop of Rome. He, together with all his successors would be invested with the unique grace of ‘confirming’ the faith of all believers. In communion with the Bishop of Rome, all bishops, and most particularly Bishops of Dioceses, make visible the fullness of what it means to be Church, as the latter-day community of disciples.
And so, we are the Church of Orange because of the one who shepherds us in that ancient apostolic tradition of word and sacrament, Bishop Kevin Vann. In apostolic lineage, he is the 4th Bishop of our local Church that was established in 1976, from the mother See of Los Angeles. Every Bishop is called to shepherd the community of believers by Teaching and Serving God’s Holy People in the example of the Good Shepherd. As Pope Francis so beautifully stated, Bishops shepherd best when ‘they have the smell of their sheep!’